Friday, October 07, 2005

Inverted city

There is a city, a quiet city, where the streets are empty and the only sign of life is from passing cars and dogs steering cleer of them. Driving here, unlike in most cities, is a pleasure because no one tails you or honks impatiently. The space has everything to do with it. The faster you travel, the shorter the distance. The slower you travel, the longer it is, and you feel every bump beneath, too. This is also related to the fact that there is no state-run bus to clog the lanes or taxi and rickshaw (again, state-run) to swerve nonchalantly into your path. So the roads are clear. What about the people?

Well, there are few people visible. They stay out of each other's way for the space they have is a precious thing. In physical terms, your space is space - the area you occupy. Expanding it, your space is the place you carry with you to think, to react, to initiate. You can see it around the people of this city. Because of this, in a sense, the lack of a crowd highlights the individual. It seems the right way to look at people. Not a crowd, not a mob, not a teeming mass, but individuals. We are primed to take in crowds; it is a way to not be overwhelmed by so many individuals at once.

I'm not one for crowds. Well, sometimes. When they aren't being too jostly and getting in the way. But we all seem to be getting in the path of somebody without knowing it most of the time. So you could be irritated or apologetic. You could even be indifferent, but let's see how long that lasts. But with no crowds about, as in the quiet city, there is a feeling bigger than the instant obvious freedom: that of a freedom of expression. It is a blank canvas that stretches as far as you can see.

And so it is with some cities. When the clutter is removed, you see it for what it is. There's even optimism that by cleaning it up, by removing the clutter, you can make it even better this time. To see this city, the one that leaves you with hope and cheer, drive about Bombay at four in the morning.

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